Cologne, Germany – A gym in Germany that caters specially to Muslim women is doing so well after its first year that others want to imitate its combination of modest attire and tough workouts. All the personal trainers at Hayat in the melting-pot Cologne district of Ehrenfeld are women: Emine and Yasmin give tips or show demurely dressed clients how to work the treadmill and tune in to Turkish pop music over their headsets. Hayat offers the full range of gym machines, including exercise bikes and devices to encourage firmer thighs. It also offers the Muslims a prayer room. This is one gym where you won’t see skimpy shorts, figure-hugging leotards and lots of bare skin. Many work out in head-scarves. Proprietress Emine Aydemir, 39, says on the first anniversary that her no-men-allowed gym has been a business success. “Many women who wear scarves come here because so many other gyms treat them badly,” she explained. “At Hayat, they feel at home and nobody stares at them because of what they are wearing. “Us Muslimas don’t envy one another’s bodies. We don’t stare at one another and compare our figures. The women take themselves as they are,” says Aydemir, who launched Hayat (the name means “life” in Turkish) at the start of April 2007.
A rise in religious claims by communities is causing embarrassment for a number of mayors in France, and concern on how to balance the principals of secularism with respecting the religious adherence of members of their communities. The mayor of Gonesse, Jean-Pierre Blazy, attempted to reconcile these claims by proposing a charter emphasizing the importance of secularism for social cohesion, to be approved by major religions present in the township. Recently, the town has faced pressures concerning the visibility of religion on public schools – including requests for halal or Islamically permissible food in the cafeteria, and a ban on girls wearing scarves in schools.
Muslim women will have to remove their face coverings if they want to vote in upcoming elections in Quebec, a government official said Friday, reversing his earlier decision to allow the veils. Marcel Blanchet, the French-speaking province’s election chief, had been criticized by Quebec’s three main political leaders for allowing voters to wear the niqab, which covers the entire face except for the eyes, if they signed a sworn statement and showed identification when they vote. But Blanchet reversed his earlier decision Friday, saying it was necessary to avoid disruptions when residents go to the polls. “Relevant articles to electoral laws were modified to add the following: any person showing up at a polling station must be uncovered to exercise the right to vote,” he said. Blanchet had to get two bodyguards after the Quebec elections office received threatening phone calls and e-mails following his initial decision to allow niqabs. He said some residents had threatened to protest Monday’s vote by showing up at polling stations wearing masks. The reversal was condemned by Muslims groups who said it could turn their members away from the polls. “I am so saddened, I doubt many of these women will show up at the polls on Monday after all this mockery,” said Sarah Elgazzar of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. Many European countries are also grappling with the issue of Muslim veils. In Britain, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw caused a stir last year when he said he wanted Muslim women to abandon the full-face veil, while a Muslim teaching assistant in northern England was suspended from her job for refusing to remove one. France passed a law in 2004 banning Islamic head scarves in schools, and the Netherlands has announced plans for one banning full-length veils in public places. Germany also has a law banning teachers in public schools from wearing head scarves. Last week in Quebec, a young Muslim woman was forced to quit her job at a prison after she refused to remove her headscarf. The public security department supported the decision, citing security concerns, but Muslim groups pointed out that the Canadian Armed Forces allow women to wear headscarves on active duty. Last month, an 11-year-old Muslim girl from Ontario participating in a soccer tournament in Quebec was pulled from the field after she refused the referee’s request to remove her headscarf.
Take off your f***ing burqas and get the f*** out of this country. We don’t want you in this country. Go home. These words were allegedly spoken by a middle-aged couple to a group of three young Muslim women wearing head scarves Apr. 29 at the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Scottsdale, Ariz. According to the young women, the couple approached them calmly and asked if they were Muslim. After answering yes, the women said the couple became enraged and verbally abused them, indicating they had just watched the film United 93. The event raised concerns throughout several Muslim communities after one of the women, Bushra Khan, the office manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Arizona chapter, sent a message out to all 31 CAIR offices nationwide about the incident.
Brahms, beer and Beethoven are German, but can a Muslim head scarf be German too? Islamic communities throughout this country are beginning to wonder. What it means to be German is an excruciating riddle, not something casually broached in a cafe. But efforts to sharpen national identity through new citizenship tests have caused a furor over accusations that Muslims are being unfairly targeted for exclusion by questions concerning head scarves, arranged marriages, homosexuality and Israel’s right to exist.
About 200 people held a free-speech demonstration in central London on Saturday, with several carrying posters of the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that infuriated much of the Muslim world. Protest organizers withdrew their open invitation for the protesters to display the Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Thursday. Peter Risdon, an organizer of the March for Free Expression, initially had announced that he would allow protesters to display banners and wear T-shirts depicting those images. On Thursday, however, Risdon asked demonstrators not to show the cartoons out of fear their display would alienate sympathetic Muslims and give credibility to a far-right political group, the British National Party, which has used the cartoons as a rallying cry. “The principle of freedom of expression is used by some as a Trojan horse, as a proxy for racism and Islamophobia,” Risdon wrote in an explanation on the Web site. The decision prompted angry responses on the Web site – and at the march. “It’s my freedom, everyone’s freedom, to expose these pictures and encourage everyone to do the same,” said Reza Moradi, 29, a protester who identified himself as an Iranian who has lived in Britain for eight years. Moradi was later questioned by police after someone lodged a complaint regarding the “nature of his placard,” which featured a copy of the Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, a London police spokeswoman said. After a brief, heated exchange with officers, Moradi left the protest on his own and then rejoined the demonstration later. Nine bearded men, whom police identified as Muslim counter-protesters, arrived at the protest wearing army fatigues and black-and-white head scarves. They were escorted away by police, but were not detained. “They were told they were free to go wherever they wanted, but because they had scarves covering their faces and they were chanting, officers remained with them,” Metropolitan Police spokesman Jonathan Southgate said. Similar cartoon-related protests in London have died down in recent weeks compared with last month, when one rally drew thousands.
PARIS – A powerful Muslim organization said yesterday that officials were abusing a new French law banning religious symbols from schools by expelling Muslim girls who were wearing printed bandannas, not Islamic head scarves. The head of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France urged girls expelled for wearing bandannas to seek court action. Seven have been expelled this week for breaking the ban, including two yesterday.
By Elaine Ganley PARIS – A powerful Islamic organization alleged Thursday that officials were abusing a law banning religious symbols from schools by expelling Muslim girls who were wearing printed bandannas, not Islamic head scarves. The head of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France urged girls expelled for wearing bandannas to take their cases to court. Seven girls have been expelled from school this week for breaking the ban, including two on Thursday.
By John R. Bowen Headscarves are back in the headlines in France this year. Now the scarves are collectively called le voile (the veil), suggesting a full facial covering, rather than, more accurately, foulards islamiques (Islamic scarves), the term used in past years. The stakes have been raised since 1989, when the scarves first sparked debate. In that year the Ayatollah Khomeni issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Algeria’s Islamist political movement coalesced, and the intifada was heating up. In France attention was focused on three middle school girls who were keeping their heads covered in class. Accused of attacking France’s principle of public secularism (la_cit_) by wearing signs of their religion, the girls were expelled. Their expulsion did not, however, keep France’s finest intellectuals from taking pens in hand to denounce the scarves and to urge schoolteachers not to give ground, lest they bring about a “Munich of the Republican School.”